DEATH VALLEY GIRLS
Under The Spell Of Joy (Suicide Squeeze)
Among the styles exhibited on the three albums before this year, Bonnie Bloomgarden’s Death Valley Girls have been very good at early rising hard rock – think first half of the ‘70s, think British, think tunes as well as power.
It’s certainly not all they’ve done (their interest in the forceful angularity of the Riot Grrls scene ran deep after being co-formed by Patty Schemel, ex-Hole), but when they nail it their proto-metal is great entertainment and I can heartily recommend 2018’s Darkness Rains.
Boldly, there’s virtually none of that here for Bloomgarden, Laura Kelsey, Nikki Pickle, and Larry Schemel. No, she hasn’t flipped to synth rock or joined Jessie Ware and Kylie Minogue at a disco, but the balance of play on Under The Spell Of Joy leans both before and after ‘70s rock.
Specifically, this album finds Death Valley Girls working a twin-‘60s strand of beaty, wall of sound groups (packed vocals, big tom-toms, tunes for transistors held to the ear) and a kind of garage rock that has that Detroit leaning to free jazz (Farfisa-like organ, skronking sax, primitive beats).
As you can imagine it’s high on instrumental hooks more than melodies, and rhythms to stamp feet/shake hair to with a nice noise component. The twist with that is Bloomgarden has propelled herself two decades on and approached these ‘60s styles with a dose of their ‘80s revival, ala your Jesus And Mary Chains types (drones, overdriven guitar pile-ons, fuzz around instruments and voices).
The result: a kind of pop record, albeit one that sneaks up on you. And I mean that literally, with the opening track, Hypnagogia, creeping in from almost imperceptible to a bubbling-under ominousness of rumbling drums, organ squeals and chanting voices that feel like three practitioners of the dark arts are just waiting for Macbeth to ride by so they can share the news.
Hold My Hand, which emerges from a murky environment of low-level distortion and deflection, follows it quite naturally as another step towards light, and onto the title track, which is the first sighting of the sax, here operating as a honking beacon among the still blurry ingredients of mixed back lead voice, two chord guitars and increasingly urgent drums.
From this point on, the album’s parameters are clearer than the sound, with the emphasis changing track to track but the core elements rarely moving far.
Hey Dena turns its gaze to their shoes, holding the centre, with the sax bleeding into a kind of pop art take on Eastern feels, while Little Things brings Ronnie Spector through a gauzy curtain, with frugging girls behind her. That frugging turns to something more like a body slam in the heads-down charge of 10 Miracle Challenge which clears the air finally, in this case for its guitar solo.
The Universe edges towards deep space, its vocals drifting beside the mothership by the slimmest tether while It All Washes Away imagines The Crystals and My Bloody Valentine heading to a combination bikie bar and coven meeting. Wear black leather would be my advice.
That the album closes with not exactly a one-two punch but more a swing (the grey mood I’d Rather Be Dreaming) and a jab (the horn-pushed Dream Cleaver) captures the sense of Under The Spell Of Joy’s as a stylistic exercise that has solid roots but finishes as something nearly but not quite.